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What Would Simon Say

by Jill Walker

March 4,2005

Many people are hoping that either Patrick Cannon or Craig Madans, the two Democratic contenders for mayor, will be finally able to give the incumbent a strong run for his (and your!) money.

This could be an exciting time for Charlotte. A potentially serious contest like this gives our city an opportunity to take a good long look in the mirror and see where we need some remedial work, some fine tuning, perhaps some pounds shed. And some people are just going to have to be a Simon if Charlotte wants to be an American Idol city. Lord knows, we have plenty of Paula Abduls to go around.

Striking somewhat of a balance between these two different judging styles, I would like to offer, in no particular order, some of my own observations on what I see reflected in Charlotte’s mirror, and what changes I would like our next mayor to shepherd us through. I say ‘shepherd’ because that is the most significant role of our mayor – shepherd to our city’s possibilities, and to our desire to be the best that we can be.

With the advent of spring upon us, my first thoughts are trending green. Charlotte has miles to go before the Sierra Club slaps a happy face on our efforts to make friends with the environment. Our air quality is abysmal. To like smoking against the wind. As our city spreads and our roads fill up with ‘family rooms on wheels’, we will continue to struggle with declining air quality unless we make a serious effort to fix it.

Also falling in the green category are our parks, which we need to maintain, preserve and expand, wherever possible. They are irreplaceable and will become only more so in the coming years. The Greenway Plan is such a great thing. Let’s not compromise on its design and implementation, especially in and around I-277.

Our public schools are the future of our community. If we can’t get Bill Gates to steer us (wouldn’t that be great?), surely local business leaders should emerge, if only motivated by enlightened self interest. And if the CMS board has administrative and policy-making responsibilities, it should have funding responsibilities as well. Accountability is a concept that resonates with everyone and it is somewhat fragmented under the present arrangement.

Let’s not give away the farm to developers anymore. I don’t think we’ll see them run to Detroit to build their dreams. What we see now is a recurrent pattern of developers calling the shots. From the multitude of big empty boxes strewn all over town to the isolated subdivisions with no sidewalks, they are mapping our future. We have too many bright people in this city to allow this to continue. We should constrain further development on the fringe. And that’s not “un-American”, it’s called tough love.

Planning, zoning, land use, environment, trees. We can make all the rules we want in these areas, but they’re meaningless unless they are enforced. Code enforcement is the devil in the details and our staff of devils is in short supply. Hire more.

Unless we just want to be a cheap imitation of a city, we are going to have to ‘accessorize’ our streets with shops, retail, pizza-by-the-slice, the works. The longer we wait, the more cost prohibitive this will become.

On a lighter note, ice skating downtown was tops. But it was like dancing on the head of a pin. Can we please make it bigger? I can’t skate backwards in such a small rink, I run into myself. And, can we make it last through January at least? The Whitewater Center can’t open fast enough. But please don’t cut any corners there. It has the potential to be Charlotte’s long-sought signature song.

Right-size the buses. Is it me, or are about 90% of the CAT cars only 10% full? Besides the fact that they look silly empty, this could save money and reduce emissions.

Oh, and please don’t let art be political, unless it’s political art. That’s it for round one.

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